Achebe contends that it ‘is clearly not part of Conrad’s purpose to confer language on the “rudimentary souls” of Africa (341). He then goes on to say that what Conrad does with HoD is in fact what goes on in many other areas, and even today: ‘In all this business a lot of violence is inevitably done not only to the image of despised peoples but even to words, the very tools of possible redress’ (349).
It strikes me as being a little ironic that violence is done using language, on language, but more importantly (as Achebe would no doubt agree) it’s about how pervasive and enduring racism in language is, ‘more akin to a reflex action’ (348). This for me directly relates to the issue of political-(in)correctness.
While it is true that Achebe is not merely arguing for great works of art or the Christian Science Monitor to be politically-correct, the suggestion that the right words need to be used when talking about those who have historically been oppressed or marginalised. But what happens when political-correctness itself becomes un-PC, because it inevitably emphasises the need to not be un-PC? The need to single certain groups of people out for special treatment when talking about them becomes the new ‘reflex action’, then politically-correct language is the new language of the bigot.
This is perhaps why american comedies constantly mock PC-ness — is it because they see that the only way to deal with the intractable problems of talking of/about the Other is by not being too serious about it, and being willing to laugh at ourselves and our prejudices? [I am saying this keeping in mind that some of my friends find Achebe a little too serious, in this essay.]